Monday, May 30, 2011

Celebrate the Little Victories

Happy Memorial Day, everyone! I hope you all are enjoying this beautiful day, spending it with family and friends, and thanking those citizens who have sacrificed so deeply to bring us the freedom we have today.

I was going to write a post on Saturday night, but I kept getting an error message every time I tried to open a new post window. I had been reflecting on a voice lesson I'd just taught on Friday with one of my students whom I haven't taught in a couple of weeks. While listening to her work on some new material, I noticed a stronger presence in her voice that hadn't previously been there. She stopped singing and fussed for making a mistake with the words, but I was so impressed by her improvement that I encouraged her to keep going.

Not only in singing, but in every area that we're trying to improve, we've got to celebrate the little victories. You can't just make a goal of losing 100 pounds and berate yourself each week when you've only lost 2 pounds. Big victories never come overnight, but they eventually come from the hundreds of little victories that add up over and over again. That's why it's so important to celebrate each little milestone you have.

Maybe you can't sing an entire Mariah Carey song you've been working on, but you can nail that one lick you've been practicing religiously for days. Celebrate it! Eventually, you will be able to sing the whole song, if you just keep at it!

I am one of those people who believe that if you work long and hard enough at something, you will eventually be successful at it. So, if you haven't found your big victory yet, maybe it means you haven't logged enough hours yet or shed enough sweat and tears! I'm serious, though! Your odds of success must increase the more you put your mind to any matter, like improving your singing.

So, I hope on this beautiful Memorial Day, you will find a small victory to celebrate in your own life, all the while, keeping your eye on the major prize that will inevitably come your way! Blessings!

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Vocal Secret Weapon #2

After reading about the first Vocal Secret Weapon, you're dying to know more, right? Ok, buckle your seat belt and get ready for this one. Again, this weapon is something we all have, but often don't think of how it can help us become a better singer. Actually this secret weapon is plural. Here goes...

Vocal Secret Weapon #2: The Articulators

The Ar-what-u-lators? you ask. The articulators are something you know all about but by different names.

The articulators include:
-soft palate
-hard palate

Tongue, teeth, cheeks, and mouth need no introduction, but just in case you're wondering, your hard palate is roof of your mouth and your soft palate is the soft part of the roof of your mouth as you get closer to the back of the throat. Go ahead and try to feel it with your tongue! No one's looking;)

Articulators are absolutely imperative to speaking because they help you articulate your words, but they are equally important to singing. You cannot sing and make any sense to anyone listening unless you use these tools to shape the sound.

Now here's where the articulators can sabotage your singing voice. When you take a deep breath, form a note, the vocal cords vibrate and force the sound upwards and out through your mouth. But if your soft palate and throat are not open enough the sound will come out squelched and strained. Or if your tongue carries tension as you're trying to form a word, it can stop the tone from sounding full. Likewise, each of your articulators will often try to "help the note", but are only adding additional stress to the sound because they carry tension.

So the first question to ask yourself when you're singing and having a difficult time is, Am I tense anywhere in my body, especially my articulators? When I was taking voice lessons regularly, I dealt with a lack of fulness to my chest range (more on ranges another time). I would be working so hard to produce a powerful tone, but the sound would come out all squeaky and weak. My voice teacher told me that my tongue was constantly tensing up, and sure enough, he was right. He told me to take a deep breath, relax, and then "pant like a dog" a few times, a trick I still use today for myself and my students. After I relaxed my tongue, the note came out the way it was supposed to sound, full and resonant.

Often the way you shape a sound with your tongue, cheeks, or lips can cause a strain to your tone. If any of these articulators carry unnecessary tension, then you will hear it and feel it in your sound. Try relaxing the part of you that is tense and even go back to some basic vocal warm-ups that use lip trills and buzz hums.

Also ask yourself if the vowel sound you're singing lends itself to tension in the articulators. Let's face it, some vowels were just not made for singing! Think of those vowel sounds that make the face spread, as in "eeeeeeeee" or "uuuuuuuuhhh", which causes the soft palate to drop lower than it should. If you are singing a difficult vowel sound, try changing it to something that allows the throat and other articulators to be free of stress. You will probably notice an immediate difference in your tone by making this simple change.

Sometimes a voice student of mine will have a wobble or shake in his or her tone when trying to sing a long, sustained note. Usually, this is because he or she is letting the mouth move way too much when singing. This movement suggests that the singer has no control over the sound that comes out, and that really is true if the articulator (in this case, the mouth) is not reigned in.

So why do I consider these articulators a secret weapon in singing? Just because, singers who learn to take control of them end up having incredible control over the total sound their singing voices produce. If you can control the articulators, you can sing it all, baby! The important part is recognizing that these parts of the body often carry tension and if not relieved, will continue to sabotage an unrestrained, pure tone.

My Vocal Secret Weapon series will be wrapping up next time and you don't want to miss the final secret weapon (it's the most important one!). Cheers and happy singing!

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Living the Dream

Several posts back, I blogged about the new show The Voice, which currently airs on NBC. I think the reason I love this show so much is because many of the singers have told the host, Carson Daily, that they are doing this singing competition because music is their life and they couldn't lead a happy, fulfilling existence without singing. The first time I heard a contestant say that, it really resonated with me because that is exactly how I feel about music. It will always be a major part of my life because I feel it's what God created me to do.

As of next month, my sole income will come from performing and teaching music. This is huge for me because I've always had side jobs that had nothing to do with music to help support me and my family. But I feel that the time is right and I'm about to take the plunge into living the dream-- my dream, to be exact.

To be completely honest, I'm scared to death! I've always had the heart of an entrepreneur, but never enough guts to act on it in a full-time capacity. However, after much prayer (and trepidation), I feel that now is the time to push for my dream. Each year brings me closer to the age of thirty, and I don't want to enter the next decade of my life having not put forth a major effort to do something I love and make a living at it!

Every time I feel fear, I receive comfort in some way. It may be through a Bible verse or just a word of encouragement from a close friend. Every book I've read in the past month has been about living an exceptional life by making your deepest needs and dreams a reality. I am feeding my spirit and my mind with information that will only affirm what I'm trying to do-- take a giant leap of faith.

Also, I pray often and really talk to God. This may sound strange to some of you, but yesterday I decided to make God the CEO of my new business. He gets to make all of the executive decisions and I'll just go with them! You can't imagine the pressure it relieved when I realized that, No, I'm not really in charge, never will be, and never was, as long as He holds the reigns on my life.

As a result, people have literally come out of the woodwork asking about piano and voice lessons. Two weeks ago, I had two phone calls out of the blue asking if I would teach lessons. This week I've had an additional two people again ask me about lessons. I am so excited for this new season of my life and the chance to show my clients my heart.

The purpose of my post today is to encourage you to live your own dream. It may have nothing to do with music, but everything to do with your core beliefs and values. I can tell you from experience that you will never be fulfilled until you try to make your passion a major portion of your life. If you can't quit your day job quite yet, what little steps can you take each day to get you closer to your dream life? What project can you start, or finish? What hobby or volunteer job can you call for information about today? Carpe diem! Seize the day!

You may ask, What about the possibility of failure? Of course, I'm concerned about failure. Who isn't? But at this point in my life, I'm even more afraid of not doing what God's called me to do. And if I do fail, at least I can say I made a die-hard effort!

Be blessed and encouraged to live your dream in whatever way you can today! Thanks for reading!

(By the way, stay tuned for Vocal Secret Weapon #2, coming up next time!)

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Vocal Secret Weapon #1!

I've decided to do a series on secret weapons for the voice in three installments. We'll cover the first one today, but in order to find out the other two, you'll just have to keep reading my blog! How's that for a marketing ploy?

Are you ready for Vocal Secret Weapon #1? Imaginary drumroll, please...

Vocal Secret Weapon #1: Room Temperature Water

Ok, so maybe it's not such a secret. In fact, it seems kind of obvious that any person in general should be consuming a lot of water (I believe the recommendation is eight 8 oz. glasses a day, but who really does that, I'd love to know). But, this simple and free gift to us is often one that gets overlooked when we're looking for other more complex ways to strengthen our voices. Sometimes, it can be as easy as drinking a nice, lukewarm glass of water!

Notice I said lukewarm water as opposed to cold water. Why should singers be drinking lukewarm water? Lukewarm, room temperature water is a closer temperature to your body than cool, just-out-of-the-fridge water. Therefore, when it hits your throat, it will not shock the vocal cords the way that cold water will. It's totally ok to consume cold water, but your best bet before a performance is to keep it room temperature. This is the optimal way to lubricate your vocal cords and gently clear out any excess mucus.

Many singers I know will drink hot teas or use natural herbal sprays intended to clear out the throat before singing, but why not take advantage of the body's natural cleanser, water? There is nothing wrong with these other products, but in my experience, water has always helped me the most.

There are so many benefits to drinking a large amount of water each day, and one of the most recent benefits I just found out about is that water can actually increase your energy. In Joyce Meyer's book, Look Great, Feel Great (copyright 2006), she states that many times the middle of the day slump that many people experience is actually caused by a thirst for water instead of what we interpret to be tiredness! I often fight the urge to take a nap at 3 pm during the weekday and absolutely will fall asleep if I allow myself to even sit on the couch!

I don't know about you, but the chance of increasing my energy level and improving my singing makes me want to pour a glass of the good stuff right now! I hope you'll go to the kitchen after reading this and get your own glass of room temperature water. Then we'll have an imaginary toast to a better singing voice as a result! Drink up.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Watch Out American Idol!

American Idol has some new competition as the fresh, exciting show The Voice airs its third episode tonight! Have you seen The Voice? Does it keep you entertained as much as it does me?

To be honest, I am not a fan of American Idol (for those of you who are gasping in shock, I might as well tell you that I also have never seen an episode of Glee). I suppose because I'm a singer, everyone and their brother thinks I haven't lived until I've auditioned for American Idol. Camping out in a long line of singers and hoping for a chance to belt out a line or two in front of a few producers is not my idea of fun.

But the idea behind The Voice intrigued me from the first commercial. Singers have the chance to audition in front of four vocal coaches who have their backs turned to the performers. If one of the vocal coaches likes what they hear, they can press a large red button that turns their chair around. If more than one vocal coach presses their button, the singer gets to choose which vocal coach he or she will work with. What a fantastic concept! Finally a show that showcases talent in the best possible way. I should mention that the vocal coaches are four famous recording artists: Christina Aguilera, Cee Lo Green, Blake Shelton, and Adam Levine. I appreciate that the producers of this show chose to use artists who each have a unique background in the popular music scene.

Another thing that differentiates The Voice from American Idol is that the singers were already pre-auditioned and each one that sang in the past two weeks is actually good. No more suffering through bad and ridiculously horrible singers who simply want their fifteen minutes of fame; although I will admit, that is part of American Idol's appeal to many viewers.

The voice teacher in me can't wait to see how each of the famous vocal coaches instructs his or her team on The Voice. And even though it will air on my television shortly after I arrive home from a three hour choir rehearsal, I will still sit engrossed. That is how much I love music!

If you're looking for a fresh reality show with some great and unusual talent, check out The Voice, Tuesday nights on NBC.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Encourage the Gift!

I don't know if it's like this where you live, but in Florida, our education system has gone through such a budget crisis that the latest news is that arts and music programs will be the first to go as numbers are crunched further. This breaks my heart, not only because I am a certified music teacher who would love to teach in the public school system, but also because I have seen first-hand the positive effects music has on young people. They need music in their daily lives! They need to be encouraged to pursue their dreams and they need teachers and other adults to believe in them.

This past weekend, my church hosted a state competition for 6-12 graders called Fine Arts. In this competition, students from different churches around the state participate in categories such as art, songwriting, sermon, vocal ensemble, vocal solo, and instrumental solo and have the opportunity to earn a superior with advance rating that allows them to compete at a national level Fine Arts. This year, I was supposed to be a judge for the keyboard category until a bout of sickness landed me in the ER. I missed my chance to be a part of this competition and I know I missed seeing some incredibly talented youth. I used to participate in this very competition when I was a teen in Kentucky. I went to nationals several times as well and these memories are some of my fondest as a budding musician.

What I remember most about Fine Arts was not the competition, because at times, it was fierce and the judgments weren't always fair. I remember the chance to interact with other teens who were just as passionate about music as I was, and the feeling of fitting into this fantastic culture that promoted arts among youth. The motivation I got from being involved in such a program was a great factor in my deciding to major in music in college.

My point is, our children and teens need our approval to go after their dreams in the arts, whether or not they get the opportunity in their own schools (sadly enough). One thing I love about kids is that they have little inhibitions. When I'm teaching a young voice student and I ask her to perform a warm-up exercise that may sound silly, she has a laugh, and does it anyway. When I ask her to perform in an upcoming showcase, she agrees because she knows the excitement of the performance will overpower the nerves. Somewhere along the line, we adults seem to lose the excitement of creating art and gain even more trepidation over the performance. What happens to the simple euphoria of singing and being a vital part of an art culture? What makes us afraid to be who we really are?

Imagine a world where we encouraged our youth to go after their music dreams with everything in them. Imagine if we kept encouraging them through adolescence and early adult-hood until they knew without a shadow of a doubt that they can be successful and have fun at the same time. Eventually we'd end up with some pretty solid, rockin' musicians! We desperately need to encourage the gift in our future musicians, artists, and authors. Don't miss your opportunity, however it may come, to shape the life of a child.